Notre Dame looking for new players to raise game
Notre Dame will rely on younger players heading into the 2011-12 season.
Three seniors are gone. There are more new faces than normal and they will have to step into productive roles if the Fighting Irish are to have a successful season in one of the nation's toughest basketball conferences.
''I won't say we're younger, were just newer,'' Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. ''There are some newer guys.''
That group includes a number of juniors and sophomores who haven't seen much playing time as a part of the Notre Dame program. Last season's three seniors all averaged over 28 minutes per game. Brey hopes the new group has been paying attention to the winning example set before them with consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.
''They've all been around and felt it the last couple of years and have been around some good stuff,'' Brey said. ''I'm counting on that - for some osmosis - to help.''
The new players will be counted on heavily right at the start of the season after Tuesday's announcement that forward Tim Abromaitis would sit out the first four games due to a suspension from an eligibility mix-up.
Along with senior Scott Martin, Abromaitis will be called on to help carry the young team. Of the returning players, Abromaitis held the highest average in points (15.4) and rebounds (6.1) last season.
Though last season's team was often carried by guard Ben Hansbrough's scoring ability, Brey is now looking to have everyone share the load.
''I think it's got to be a little bit by committee instead of one guy driving that train all the time,'' he said.
Sophomore Eric Atkins projects as the starting point guard to replace Hansbrough, while Jack Cooley will likely start at power forward. Junior Joey Brooks and sophomores Jerian Grant and Alex Dragicevich will all fight for playing time in the backcourt.
As practice starts up this week, Brey said he's in an unfamiliar position in that he can tell all of his eligible players to expect to play.
''I don't know if many coaches can say that,'' Brey said. ''I certainly have never been in a situation like that. There are always a couple guys that they're just not going to be in the mix.''
With everyone owning a realistic shot at playing time, Brey hopes it takes some of the pressure off the younger players.
''What I would hope is that it gives a group really a clear head to just go and get better as a team because you can deposit the baggage of `Am I going to play? How much am I going to play?'' Brey said. ''You're going to be part of it. We need all of you.''
Brey pointed to Martin, Abromaitis and Atkins as players he wants to see play aggressively on the offensive end.
''He's definitely been on me to be more aggressive and I think I will be,'' Martin said. ''I feel better than I've ever felt since the injury, so that's always a definite plus.''
Martin had a back injury at the end of last season. As a co-captain with Abromaitis, Martin looks at his teammate's season-opening suspension as just another problem for the team to handle.
''Thankfully a lot of these guys on this team have been through challenges before and learned to overcome them,'' Martin said. ''We're just looking at it as another challenge. It is what it is and we're just going to play through it.''
Abromaitis has confidence in his teammates to prevail in his absence.
''I think those first four games will stink to watch from the bench and not to be able to be out there with them,'' Abromaitis said. ''But it will really be an opportunity for guys to step up, that will get a few more minutes that haven't really in the past, and I think it will definitely be a springboard for some guys that step up in those games.''